Message on classes?

 

Yesterday, as I am sure you all know, there was another Blizz Q&A, this time with Game Director Ion Hazzikostas. I watched it live, then parts of it again this morning as I was munching my corn flakes. There were really no great revelations, and of course everyone will have their own take on it. If you want to check it out for yourselves, Wowhead has video of the entire interview and a nice text summary on this page.

In spite of the fact that we were told the Q&A is not the venue for discussing class balance issues, the one thing that struck me was a pretty defined thread of Legion class development weaving through many of the answers given to questions on varied topics. I think we are in the middle of a pretty significant swing on the entire philosophy of classes in WoW. That is not really news, I guess, but I do think we are finally seeing the emergence of a more or less clearly articulated set of class policies, which is something we have not had for some time now in the game.

The way I would express this policy is:

External game mechanisms are more important for determining class strengths than are individual player abilities, and those mechanisms should influence group compositions. 

Yeah, I know, but hear me out.

Gear. Gear level is the default measuring stick for all content in the game. Hazzikostas was pretty blunt about this when asked about the difficulty of the class artifact challenges in 7.2. He went to some pains to point out that the challenges were actually designed to get easier with better gear, and that player abilities could only go so far to beat the challenges absent good gear, and in some cases very specific gear.

However, in an apparent nod to player abilities (along with an obedient bow to the elitist mentality), he did add he is “confident that there will be a large number of people who just aren’t able to do [the artifact challenges]”. Yes, he used the word “confident”, which implies approval of the development. We don’t know whether he has this confidence because he also has confidence in the inept play of many players or because he has confidence in the fact that RNG makes getting decent gear unlikely for many players.

Nevertheless, the message was pretty clear: gear should matter more than almost any other factor.

External buffs discussion. This was eye-opening to me. The question being answered had to do with the wisdom of continuing to have external group buffs — of which there are currently very few. But Hazzikostas’s answer was quite far-reaching, I thought. It went far beyond the actual question, almost as if the question had been chosen to allow a public policy statement.

He first explained he thinks there should be more group-contributing type abilities, “not just numbers-driven ones”. I found this to be pretty amazing, considering Legion had gone to some pains to strip away almost all raid buffs.

He also expressed what I presume is the official Blizz stance on class value — that the game had veered too far in the direction of “bring the player not the class”, and that there is in his opinion significant value in bringing certain classes because of their unique group contributions. In fairness, he did point out that you can go too far in this direction, giving Sunwell Plateau as an example. But the message was clear: class should matter in group selection. He even went so far as to give the example of selecting a less-skilled warlock over, say “a third hunter”.

I admit I was annoyed that the only mention he made of hunters in the entire Q&A was to intimate there are too many of them, and that they are just generic damage dealers, but that is petty of me. And maybe I am reading too much into this, but it seems like he has completely forgotten that hunters used to be the premier utility class until under his watch nearly all utility functions were stripped from them. And now he has the nerve to imply hunters have no special utility and therefore should be replaced by a class that does have some??? OK, mini-rant over.

Anyway, I think this pronouncement is the formalization of the sea change in Blizz’s class development philosophy that we have observed evolving in Legion. I do not think it is overstating it to say that Blizz is moving back towards the idea of optimal class mixes for raids. In fact, he made this plain when he said (direct quote), “A well rounded group should always be the best one”.

Whether this will have any appreciable effect on non-elite raid teams remains to be seen. It seems unlikely, especially for flexible-sized difficulty levels. I suspect most semi-casual raid teams seldom run at the full 30 capacity, so if they have a few extra hunters (big fat raspberry to you, Mr. Ion “I Hate Hunters” Hazzikostas) it does not mean they can’t still add that oh-so-useful Warlock…

It will have an effect, I suppose, on Mythic raid teams, but many of those already configure their rosters based on class/spec contributions for specific fights. It could have an effect also on those non-Mythic teams who occasionally dip a toe into Mythic raids. I am thinking of my own guild, where just because of membership we frequently run with 4 or more hunters — if “proper” class mix becomes a thing, some of those hunters, regardless of their play abilities, could be asked to sit out if they are preventing a “useful” class from coming along. I think guild philosophy would supersede benching a regular raider solely because of their class, but if having a certain class mix is a clearly superior strategy, it could happen.

Another area that might be affected is pugs. Hazzikostas seemed to think increasing class relevance would be beneficial to pugs, because group leaders would not just be looking to grab the player with the highest ilevel. True, but it could also serve to really harm a class perceived to have no “special” contributions. Even if Blizz is forward-thinking enough to give every spec an identifiable beneficial utility, it could still backfire if that spec’s utility was not useful in certain fights — you might be able to get all the first wing Nighthold you could handle, for example, but no group would even think of picking you up for the second wing.

I often criticize Blizz for not communicating policy changes, so it is only fair that I hand them a kudo this time. Though it was subtle, I do think Ion Hazzikostas in the Q&A delivered a policy pronouncement on the role of classes in Legion and going forward: Gear and group utility (as handed out by Blizz in the form of unique class abilities) are significant pieces of class power, slightly outweighing player proficiency except in the most extreme cases, and it is desirable that these class attributes play a role in determining group composition strategies.

I may not agree with it, but I can’t argue that I have not been told about it.

Oh, and Blizz, please for the love of anything you may hold dear —

GIVE HUNTERS BACK THEIR RAID UTILITIES.

And have a good weekend.

 

Of sledge hammers and responsibilities

Yesterday there was a long blue post in one of the forums, about Blizz’s decision to axe the use of all nameplate addons for friendly characters in raids. Basically, insofar as I can surmise, Blizz did this because they were annoyed that one of the world-first Mythic guilds used such an addon to gain an advantage defeating one of the Nighthold bosses, and Blizz thought this was No fair, no fair! (Stomp feet, pout, get angry red face.)

Up front, let me say that I really don’t give a flying fig about the specifics of this action — I don’t use friendly nameplates at all, much less in the chaotic visual salad that is raid bosses. So I doubt that this will have much if any direct effect on my game play, and I suspect it will have very little effect on 90% or more of regular players.

Still, I found Blizz’s action interesting. It struck me as a real overreaction, like using a sledge hammer to swat a fly. One top-level guild uses one specialized addon to help them defeat one boss in a Mythic instance of one raid tier, and Blizz considers the best solution is to ban the use of all similar addons for all raid teams for all bosses in all raids?

Why not tell the guild, “Sorry, we have determined that you used an exploit, and we warned everyone that use of exploits would nullify any achievements they were used for, so go back and try again.” Would this have angered the guild? Sure, and they might have rightfully claimed Blizz was being arbitrary and capricious, but hey welcome to the world the rest of us Great Unwashed live in. Blizz, of course, is loathe to annoy the top guilds because they are money-makers, so they tend to tiptoe around them asking if maybe they could get them another cup of tea or a crumpet or something. A world-first guild has to do something pretty heinous for Blizz to sanction them in any way. In this case, like the medieval use of whipping boys as stand-ins for misbehaving royalty, Blizz is punishing others for one incident of one guild’s naughtiness.

In any human endeavor, some will inevitably rise to the top, some will become leaders. As leaders they are treated differently than those they lead, they have certain privileges and are able to exercise certain powers either directly or indirectly. There are good reasons for this, and at any rate it is just the way of the world. Most people accept it.

But here’s the thing: With leadership comes responsibility. The more power you have, the more loathe you must be to exercise it. The more privileges you have, the less you must be willing to use them. The more adulation you receive, the more you must shun it. In all things, you must keep in mind the greater good of those you lead, not your own personal advancement. This is true whether you are the leader of a nation or an army general or the treasurer of your middle school student council. Or a top level guild in a computer game.

Which brings me — finally — to my point. Many players look to the achievements of top guilds, as well as to the game play of members of those guilds, as models worthy of emulation. And Blizz encourages this through their promotion of world first competitions and esports events. This makes these guilds and their members leaders in the gaming community. No, they don’t have the nuclear codes, and the world order will not collapse as a result of their decisions, but they are leaders nonetheless, whether or not they realize it.

Gaming “leaders” are a relatively new group on the world stage. The closest similar group are sports stars, both individuals and teams. As we all know, not all sports stars exercise their leadership in positive ways (well, to be honest, many world leaders do not, either), but maybe now is the time for gaming leaders to establish a pattern of high standards and excellent leadership in their games. Not just in achievements, but in the methods they use to get there.

I don’t honestly know if the nameplate addon usage was a shady exploit or not, for all I know it was perfectly legitimate to assume it was okay to use. But what I do wonder is if the guild that used it even thought about the precedent they were setting, or the possible ramifications to other players if their technique was determined to be unfair. Are these guilds setting a good example when they skirt the boundaries of normal play by using split runs and gear funneling in their pursuit of a world first achievement? Do they even consider the possibility that their actions may have an adverse effect on normal players? Again, I am not saying any of these procedures are wrong, I just think it is time for the top guilds to acknowledge their leadership position and to make decisions responsibly and in accordance with a consideration for the greater good of the game. If that means they reject certain actions as not setting a good example — even if it means they might lose an edge for the title of world first — then that is a positive sign for the future of world class gaming.

And now, let the weekend begin.

Nighthold, tier tears, and hotfixes

Today’s post is a few bits and pieces on Nighthold, tier gear, and the most recent hotfixes.

Nighthold. Last night our raid team ventured into Nighthold (N). We had a good time and downed 6 bosses — Skorpyron, Chronomatic Anomaly, Trilliax, Spellblade Aluriel,  Krosus, and High Botanist Tel’arn.

Mini-rant: What is it with Blizz and their seemingly random use of apostrophes in names? As far as I can tell, there is no solid linguistic foundation for it, none of the Azerothian or ancient WoW languages has any real basis in descriptive or structural analysis. Do the apostrophes connote contractions? Possessive case? Glottal stops or whistles or some other phoneme difficult to render in a Roman alphabet? Or, like raising one’s pinky in an elaborate show of faux politesse, are they a pretention? My money is on the latter.

Anyway, back to last night’s raid. We one-shotted all the bosses except for Botanist, who did give us some trouble. (However, we wiped a couple of times on trash, go figure.) There was some muttering about Nighthold being “undertuned”, but I don’t agree. We are pretty much overgeared for Normal, which as some of you may recall was originally (in Patch 5.4 I think) structured to be the “friends and family” mode, with Heroic being the progression mode. Had it been a true cakewalk, we should have cleared it, but Botanist’s mechanics did in fact kick our butts — the individual mechanics are not complicated, but dealing with all of them in the last phase was pretty chaotic. I haven’t yet studied the 4 bosses we did not do, but I suspect they will give us a challenge also.

My previous guild’s raid team was actually a “friends and family” type organization, and I can tell you there is no way that team would have been able to down even Skorpyron the first time we ventured in. So my initial impression is that Nighthold is tuned about right. Most of us last night had glanced at a couple videos and explanations for the first 2-3 bosses, but after that we just pretty much played it by ear, relying on the in-game raid notes, normal raid awareness, and above-average healing and tanking.

The raid’s physical structure is visually appealing, kind of a mix of both Arcway and Court of Stars, with both indoor and outdoor areas. (Whatever else such a structure provides, it is nice to be able to repair periodically without having to zone out or have a well-prepared engineer in the group — I hope this is Blizz’s standard practice from now on.)

We’ll go back Thursday and hopefully finish the last four bosses. We got some decent loot drops last night (not me, of course, don’t be silly) with one random legendary and a few pieces of tier gear. (Well, I did get a non-tier helm from someone who offered it up because they didn’t need it. I gratefully accepted it, I am not proud.)

Hunter tier gear. This, too, is a mini-rant (okay, maybe a full-fledged rant). I don’t know how useful the tier bonuses are for other classes, but for BM hunters, of the 2-pc and 4-pc bonuses, one is pretty good and one is crap. Here’s the thing — prior to last night, the Blizz tooltips had this description (quoted in MMO-C and IcyVeins and a couple of other places) (emphasis mine):

(2) Set (Beast Mastery): Dire Beast reduces the cooldown of Bestial Wrath by an additional 8 sec.
(2) Set (Marksmanship): Every 35 Focus you spend reduces the cooldown of Trueshot by 1 sec.
(2) Set (Survival): Flanking Strike now has 3 times the normal chance to trigger Hunting Companion.
(4) Set (Beast Mastery): When you use Bestial Wrath, all of your currently summoned Dire Beasts gain 50% increased damage for 15 sec.
(4) Set (Marksmanship): Trueshot also reduces the cost of all your Focus spenders by 15%.
(4) Set (Survival): When Mongoose Fury reaches 6 applications, you gain 20% increased damage to all abilities for 10 sec.

 

Well, I thought when I first began reading about hunter tier gear, at least they gave us the good bonus with 2 pieces, and the 4-piece set — which I almost never am able to get — is blah. The number of Dire Beasts beyond one that you have summoned at any point is completely RNG-dependent, so the 4-piece bonus is pretty hit and miss, not really something you can depend on for burst damage. Par for the course, but the 2-piece Bestial Wrath cooldown is pretty powerful. Woohoo, I thought.

Silly me, haven’t I learned by now?

Imagine my surprise last night when suddenly, out of the blue, the tier set descriptions were magically reversed. Now the crap bonus with Dire Beast damage is the 2-piece, and the BW cooldown bonus is the 4-piece. Chances of me getting this? Close to zero.

Blizz,seriously, do you just enjoy screwing with hunters, or what? Do you derive amusement from telling us one thing for months and then pulling the rug out from under us? Was this mixup just a stupid error in not checking tooltips, or did you in fact arbitrarily switch it in the hours before the patch went live, not giving a flying flap how it affected your players?

The sad thing is, this might still be a mixup. I have no idea what the hunter tier bonuses are, which is the 4-piece and which is the 2-piece. Blizz is that incompetent.

Recent hotfixes. January 17 saw some fairly significant hotfixes. The ones I though were the most interesting:

  • Mythic Emerald Nightmare is now cross-realm. This is something the Mythic raiders have been asking for now for some time. My raid team is not actually a Mythic team, but one of the reasons we did not go beyond 2/7 in EN (M) is that we frequently had 18 or 19 raiders but could not find that last one or two on our server. People had friends who would have happily joined us, but they were on another server. So I applaud this move by Blizz.
  • Crafting costs for the talent-swapping tomes have been “significantly reduced”. Good, I suppose, although as I have written before this is in my opinion nothing more than trying to polish a turd …
  • Some significant buffs were made to hunters, especially to BM hunters. Again, this to me is a good news/bad news situation — the good news is that we got some buffs, the bad news is that Blizz is still flailing wildly trying to “balance” classes and to slap some gigantic band-aids on the gaping wound that is hunter mechanics. It just seems worrisome to me that at this stage in an expansion, Blizz is still making “adjustments” of this magnitude.

Beast Mastery
Cobra Shot damage increased by 46%.
Chimaera Shot damage increased by 10%.
Barrage damage increased by 10%.
Kill Command damage increased by 10%.

Tl;dr: Nighthold is fun, Blizz has no idea what they are doing with hunter tier gear or class “balancing”. 

Ahead of the curve and behind it

Last night I think I had the most fun I have had in the game in a very long time. It was raid night, and we downed both Cenarius and Xavius in heroic, giving us our EN 7/7(H). It was not easy, nor was it especially pretty, and we killed them by the hairs of our chinny chin chins, but we did it. There were cheers and hoots and hollers all around, and much posing for screen shots, and in general it was just very cool.

This to me is where the main fun is in WoW. It is a social game, after all, and even extreme introverts like myself can enjoy that. We started our Legion raiding season the first night Emerald Nightmare was active (September 20? I think). About 25 people showed up that first night, and the team has varied a bit over the last 5 weeks but has kept a fairly consistent core of 18-25 members. The guild has some people that have played together for many years, but it is a very active guild in terms of recruitment, the founders are extremely open and welcoming to new members, and it has been interesting to watch a collection of individuals come together and function as a team. Kudos to the GM, raid leaders and officers for providing the conditions for success.

There was some talk of where we might go from here, so I guess there will be some discussions about that in the coming days. We are not really a Mythic raiding guild, but of course inevitably that will be one of the options discussed. If we go that route I am not sure I should be part of it. I am not an exceptional raider by any measure, more of a reliable member of the chorus line. My damage numbers are usually respectable but not remarkable, and it often takes me a bit longer than others to catch on to certain mechanics. (Tornadoes come to mind, and I never did catch on to Durumu’s maze.)

Also, my gear is approaching the “stinks” level when compared to others on the team.  As I mentioned a few days ago, my RNG luck is approaching catastrophic. Last night I noticed that, of 21 raid team members, 20 had legendaries equipped. Guess who was the only person not to have one (much less two or three, as some do)? And honestly, well-intended advice to “just run Mythics and do emissary quests” is annoying, not helpful. I think I have missed doing only one emissary quest since WQs opened for me. I run 4-5 Mythics a week, some regular, some pluses. I have never missed doing a weekly world boss since they started, and I have never gotten even a single piece of gear from any of them — always only gold. I have gotten to the point where I save up my emissary chests and open several at a time so as to concentrate the disappointment rather than have it more frequently. When I do get gear from world or other quests, the only time I seem to win an upgrade is if it is so low level that I can’t equip it, and then the lucky upgrade I get is +5, making it a slightly higher piece for vendoring.

Supposedly there is some sort of “bad luck insurance” Blizz has instituted for people like me. I guess their definition of bad luck is a lot different than mine is, because I see zero evidence of any kind of insurance kicking in. I think it is at least a 50-50 bet that it does not exist, it is just a lie perpetrated by Blizz to keep people like me on the hook.

That great oracle of fun, Ion Hazzikostas, is fond of lecturing us on how much more fun RNG is than boring old tokens or other currency, that it is a real rush when you unexpectedly get a great piece of gear. What he asininely fails to admit is that, when you are consistently on the butt end of the probability curve, it is frustrating beyond belief to see literally everyone around you get the RNG rewards — some multiple times — and there is absolutely nothing zero zip nada you can do to get them yourself. There is no skill or persistence that can help you get that random drop. He has said it is not fun to grind for gear, but that is exactly what some of us are doing, except there is no guarantee whatsoever that the grind will ever be successful. At least with a currency system, you know that eventually you will get what you are grinding for.

And here’s a news flash for you, Ion: after weeks and months of bad luck, it is no longer fun even if you do finally get a drop. It is just a relief that you will temporarily not have to face daily disappointment, that you will now be on a par with other players — at least until their luck inevitably kicks in before yours does again.

Getting the AotC achievement last night was fantastic fun. I was part of team that worked for it — we were completely in charge of our success or failure, and it was a real rush when we eventually succeeded. It just felt good. Being behind the curve on RNG-based gear feels terrible, more so because players have zero control over their fate, and no amount of hard work will result in success.

Patch 7.1?

Late Edit. After I wrote this, the Official 7.1 Patch Notes came out, and contrary to what we were led to believe from the initial patch notes, BM hunters — and to some extent MM as well — were once again pretty much ignored. The Trailblazer talent did appear, but none of the other talent items I listed below. Plus there was a 37.5% nerf to Posthaste, presumably so that Trailblazer would be more attractive as a talent in that line.

Unfortunately, what this means to me is that the real “Phase 2” of Ion Hazzikostas’s Grand Plan for Hunters has not yet been put into effect, and we can look forward to a long, slow process for hunters. If at all. I would have liked to see a short explanation of why the apparently-planned other changes did not occur, but that would imply respect for the hunter class. One hopes the reason is that there are much more sweeping changes in the works and so there was no point in making a couple of small changes now. But of course, one has been sorely disappointed before….

Tomorrow Legion’s Patch 7.1 drops in the U.S., a few hours later in Europe. There are plenty of sites with summaries and data mining guesses, as well as info gleaned from PTR experience, among them Wowhead, IcyVeins, the official Blizz site, the PCGames site, and no doubt tons of others. Check them out if you are the type that likes to do last-minute prep.

One thing that comes through loud and clear with Patch 7.1 is that Blizz is making sure they avoid the variations on “lame” they were accused of (with justification) for the first patch of WoD. No one can say this patch is not chock full of new content, with new world quests, new zone quest lines, a new mini-raid, and of course the much-anticipated Return to Karazhan.

You wanted content, all right, I got your content right here! Now stop whining!

I am not sure how RtK will turn out. I know there a lot of people — possibly many of you even — who look back on the original Karazhan as a highlight of your group play. You remember fondly the various bosses, the trouble you had and overcame as a group in figuring out the admittedly innovative mechanics, took delight in the way the dungeon intertwined with other forms of art and leisure activity.

As a disclaimer, I never ran Karazhan when it was current, I only experienced it as a quick “fun run” when we were all overgeared for it, or when we decided to do a naked run or a protect-the-baby competition or something similar just for fun. On those occasions, honestly, I found the dungeon to be boring and tedious. I did not have any of the “fond memories” others clearly did and still do, to me it was just another place to do some guild night activities in.

So I am not looking forward especially to returning to it. As a game design, I wonder a bit about designing what is basically a 5-man raid, a complex Mythic-only dungeon with 11 known bosses and almost certainly some hidden ones, with extraordinarily complex mechanics, that will take hours to complete. For loot, gear base levels increase with later bosses, starting off at 855 and ending at 875 (with of course the almost-negligible chance of significant random upgrades). So loot is not bad, although I wonder if it will be much of a motivator, since the kind of 5-man group able to complete it will likely have most of their gear already at or beyond the 860 level. (Will there be RtK Mythic+ runs? I already think of places like Arcway and Court of Stars as nightmarish for anything other than a regular Mythic run…)

I find myself wondering who the target player audience is for RtK. It is certainly not the typical guild group looking to knock out a few 5-mans after a raid or on an off night. It seems like it is not a dungeon conducive to pugs, nor to casual guilds with a continually-changing cast of logged in players. It seems to award gear too low to attract more than a once-through for the achievement for hardcore raiding guilds, yet be too challenging for groups that would greatly benefit from the gear. About the only players I see loving this a few diehard “good old days” types who will run it for the perceived nostalgia and who can find 4 other individuals who are either similarly nostalgia-imbued or who could use a couple targeted pieces of gear.

The other thing with RtK is that it will probably exacerbate the already-concerning problem of guild tank and healer burnout we are seeing from trying to get Mythic+ runs for guildies.

Patch 7.1 has a few economic and quality of life changes as well. The Blood of Sargeras vendor will appear in Dalaran, allowing players to buy mats with BoS. For example, you can buy 10 herbs with one blood, and the thing here is that number applies to any herb, even the still-overpriced Starlight Rose. (Late edit: Not so, see the comments below.) As herbs on my server still go for exorbitant prices in the auction house, it should be interesting to see what if any effect this will have on those AH prices.

The big news, and the one touted by Blizz as being a magnanimous concession to alt play, is that unlocking world quests now becomes account wide. It certainly is a step in the right direction, but I would have liked to see some significant profession changes, too. At least something that would alleviate the horribly high gear and skill requirements to run Mythic dungeons just to be able to get profession recipes, and removing the RNG component. (I have already abandoned my attempts to level LW on my main — getting even the vendored pattern upgrades is far too expensive to justify, especially when you realize that crafted gear, even if upgraded to 850, is pretty useless except temporarily for some rarely-played alts.)

There are also quite a number of class changes, mostly in the name of “balance”. The hunter changes seem less numerous than those for other classes, and they seem a mix of nerfs and buffs. Though I will wait to see how they play out, especially for Beast Masters, a couple of them stood out for me. Basically, the hunter changes involve talents, and they seem to be the “phase 2” part of what Ion Hazzikostas was talking about when he outlined upcoming hunter changes. One hopes this is the case, as it might indicate that actual core mechanic changes (the supposed “phase 3”) are in the works for 7.2.

One that got my attention was the removal of Dash from the level 45 talent line and its replacement with something called Trailblazer. Delirium, over at The Thrill of the Wild, had a nice summary of the change a couple of weeks ago:

Aspect of the Cheetah:
The first change is the return of Aspect of the Cheetah, sort of…
Trailblazer: Your movement speed is increased by 25% anytime you have not attacked for 3 seconds.
This talent will replace the currently very underused, if ever used, talent Dash, which adds an additional 3 seconds to the duration of Aspect of the Cheetah. Instead, now, we’ll have a buff that’s similar to the old Aspect of the Cheetah, giving us a run speed buff whenever we’re not in combat.

It’s very hard to imagine taking this over Posthaste, for me, but I’m still excited about this change. For hunters, especially Marks hunters, we have almost no choices in our talents. The disparity between talents is fairly extreme, even in very different situations: high mobility vs low mobility, single target vs multi-target, etc. The only time I change talents at all is if I want a pet tank, which really isn’t often, and is never in group content.

On the minus side, in terms of mobility, however, I see that Disengage is going from a 20-second cooldown to a 30-second one. Note that by increasing the cooldown for DE, there is the additional effect of decreasing hunter mobility from Posthaste. This is pretty significant and also pretty discouraging, because it means that Blizz will be continuing to nerf the “obvious” talent choices they engineered, rather than simply buff the weak ones. I do not know what the cumulative effect of this will be, but common sense says that it will serve to weaken hunter damage a bit. Whether that turns out to be significant or not remains to be seen.

I note that the teacher’s-pet mages, however, still have a 15-second cooldown for Blink… 

A Murder of Crows and Volley are getting some buffs, presumably in an attempt to make Barrage less of a must-choose for level 90 talents. (Recall that Barrage already received its 20% nerf a while back.)

MM hunters are losing their special extra-health version of Exhilaration (they will now get the same 30% health restoration that SV and BM do), and in its place they are getting the option for an additional 20 focus, bringing their focus to 120 (I think).

As I said, I will wait to see how the hunter changes play out after the patch goes live, but I really hope that these are indeed the phase 2 Hazzikostas talked about, and that as soon as we get some word on 7.2, there will be some significant baseline changes to hunter mechanics.

Meanwhile, on to Patch 7.1.

Emerald Nightmare part two

Last night my guild finished up the last three bosses in Emerald Nightmare (Normal). This week was basically a warmup for progression, which we will start next week with Heroic. I can’t claim great expertise with EN yet, but I do have some general observations to add to my earlier comments.

Fight length. The one overwhelming impression I had after finishing up last night is that most of these fights are very, very, very long. I think this is true for nearly all the EN bosses, but especially so for the last three. The fights just seemed to go on for-freaking-ever, reminding me a bit of how I usually felt in the Immerseus fight back in Siege of Orgrimmar.

This is almost certainly due to a combination of it being early in the expansion — thus most players are not at the peak of their damage powers — and the fact that these bosses have hundreds of millions (in some cases over a billion) health. I have to wonder if Blizz merely substituted the add-crazy approach of WoD with a length-crazy approach for Legion. After a certain amount of time, very long fights get challenging just because eventually people get bored or fatigued enough to start to make mistakes, so the challenge really is not the fight itself but rather one of maintaining focus. And, of course, longer fights are usually a bigger challenge to healers not only because of mana issues, but also because of the fatigue tendency for other players to stand in more bad stuff the longer the fight goes on.

Tuning. I have seen some of the usual forum-dweller complaints about EN being “a joke” or “too easy”, and some data mining indicates Blizz may be considering a combo of “class tuning adjustments” along with significantly buffing many dungeon and raid bosses in 7.1. Thus, I take this opportunity to reiterate my opinion that normal mode raids should not be weeks-long slogs for non-progression casual raid teams. Blizz itself has told us repeatedly that normal mode is supposed to be the “friends and family” mode. This does not mean it should be a stroll in the park, but it also should not take a casual team weeks of progression-type raiding to finish, and it should be tolerant of a true flex setup, rotating people in and out as their schedules permit.

When Blizz set up flex mode in 5.4 (I think that is about when they did it), it was designed to be a difficulty level between LFR and what was then Normal mode. When they made the flex concept permanent, they announced that their intent was for Normal to be the same as the new “flex” mode, and for Heroic to be the same difficulty as the old Normal mode. Thus, Normal would be the “friends and family” level, and Heroic would be the level for progression teams. In WoD, this was absolutely not the case — Normal mode required a progression setup and schedule for most casual teams, and even for many semi-casual teams. This in my opinion is one reason why many teams disintegrated about the time that Black Rock Foundry came out — they simply were not the kinds of guilds that could field solid progression teams.

Thus, it seems to me that any cries of “too easy” for EN are unfounded. We are simply seeing what I hope is a return to the original intent of Normal mode raid tiers. I really hope Blizz does not cave in to either the devs or the forum denizens who believe that raids at any level are strictly for hardcore 40-hour+ a week players.

Cost of raiding. Simply put, this is astronomical. Basic flasks, enchants, gems, talent switching tomes, and food on my server — and I suspect on many servers — are going for well upwards of a thousand gold each, with enchants and gems easily fetching 20k+ each. Even the mats go for huge sums. These numbers will come down a bit as the expansion wears on, but for now they are effectively a bar to raiding for many players, as most raid teams expect a certain amount of preparedness from each of their members. Players who went through the gold giveaway of WoD may have enough to get through at least a couple of months of this high cost, but new players really don’t have a chance.

Also, I do not expect the costs to go down significantly for many months, due to Blizz’s treatment of professions in Legion. It is a prohibitive time and skill sink for most people to learn — much less produce — the major products of their professions unless the character is a main. The mechanics of profession progression in Legion require main-level commitment to leveling and to doing dungeons (Mythic as well as Heroic) and world quests. What this means is that far fewer players than in the past will be able to produce their own raid supplies, resulting in these items remaining very high cost. Basically, if you were not lucky enough to have selected the “right” mix of professions for your main, you are going to be spending a LOT of gold just to be able to effectively raid every week, for many months to come.

The whole subject of professions in Legion is certainly a topic for an entire post (or series of posts), but I think as Legion wears on we will find that Blizz may have finally broken the profession system in WoW. It is one thing to have to work a bit to max out a profession, it is quite another to structure the process such that only a character with main-level proficiency and time commitment can achieve a max profession.

BM hunters seem to stink. I grant you that my experience raiding thus far in Legion is extremely limited, but from my worm’s-eye view it may soon be almost irresponsible to try and raid with any hunter spec except MM. This week our 28-30 member raid team ran with four hunters: one MM and three BM. Of this group, the MM hunter and one BM hunter are highly skilled raiders as well as being players that routinely squeeze every bit of damage they can from their spec. (And nope, I am not that BM hunter.) On every boss and in every trash fight, the MM hunter out-damaged the BM hunter by usually several thousand points both in DPS and in total damage, and often the difference was in excess of 10k-20k. Additionally, the MM hunter was frequently at the top of our damage charts overall.

Checking the initial raid charts from some of the third party log sites, I see that there are a few MM hunters at the top, but there are zero BM hunters. (Also zero SV hunters, but honestly I don’t consider that spec to be a true hunter.) Yes, the self-fulfilling prophecy effect enters in here — the top players perceive that MM is the best, thus none of them raid with BM, thus the top ranks only show MM, thus it becomes the defacto “raiding spec” — but I think we are seeing an imbalance similar to what we saw with SV hunters at the start of WoD. The difference is enough that selecting any hunter spec other than MM seems to deny your team a significant amount of damage power. (And no, good solid raid teams worth their salt will not kick someone just because of their spec, but there comes a point at which a conscientious player feels like they are not pulling their weight.)

This is troublesome, because Blizz has several times stated that they feel class balance is critical in Legion, mainly because of the huge investment in artifact power and progress. I think we are perilously close to the point where serious hunters who chose BM as their Legion spec will feel compelled to switch specs just to remain competitive.   This is exactly the situation Blizz said they are going to great lengths to avoid. This is a balance issue that must be addressed very soon, and yet every indication we have had from Blizz is that they have already abandoned the hunter class for the remainder of this expansion. None of the class balancing changes announced thus far for 7.1 even begin to address some of the fundamental problems with BM hunters — or any hunter spec for that matter.

I end this post with what has become a plaintive and lonely cry in the wilderness: Blizz, for crying out loud, do something to acknowledge the concerns of Legion hunters. At least give us a sign that you know we are unhappy, even if that sign is just a big Blizz middle finger and an announcement that yes, you intend to destroy the hunter class, BWAAAAAHAHA! Why do you pay attention to every other class and continue to ignore hunters? 

With that, I am off to start my weekend. You enjoy yours.

First look at Emerald Nightmare

Last night my guild ventured into Emerald Nightmare (Normal) to kick off our Legion raiding effort. We had a full complement of 30, with a couple of standbys who will get a chance when we run again next week. All in all, it was a decent first attempt. We cleared the first four bosses, though one or two were just by the hairs of our chinny chin chins. Still, a kill is a kill, and kudos to our tanks and healers who kept things going even when we DPS did some stupid things. The main annoyance for me personally was that apparently my provider was one of the ones targeted by yesterday’s DDoS attack — it did not affect my latency, but it did cause me to dc 4-5 times, though I was always able to log right back in.

There are a number of third party sites that will give you details, lore, recommended strategies, etc. for each fight. I have linked the IcyVeins summaries. What follows are just my overall impressions.

We started out with Nythendra, a big old classic dragon fight with fairly uncomplicated but pesky mechanics. Of course, the standard dragon moves apply — don’t stand in front of or behind. The addition of the various kinds of rot targeting random players in Phase 1 was a bit different, but it just meant you had to run out of the raid and drop the junk in a more or less organized pattern. We wiped a few times due to the mechanics and visuals in Phase 2, where the rot spots move towards Nythendra and will kill you if you stand in their path, and where the room fills with big old grubs and bugs, some of which swell up and do a 3-pulse AoE burst. I had a hard time seeing the bursting critters and am ashamed to admit I never once made it through that phase. We ultimately Downed the boss on the strength of our heals, and by organizing a rotation of raid healing cooldowns.

This fight seems intended as a raid attention-getter, a way for a team to focus and brush away some of the cobwebs before tackling more challenging mechanics. It certainly did that for us. I am sure in a couple of weeks we will be breezing right through it.

Next up was Ursoc, whom we one-shotted. This definitely reminded me of Butcher in Highmaul, in that it was primarily a DPS check, and the mechanics included a boss charge that required breaking the team up into two groups to alternate soaking the damage. Once you get yourselves organized, it is a pretty easy pew-pew type fight.

For our third boss, we selected Il’gynoth, a creature that parks his eye outside a giant tree, then when you kill the eye you get to go inside the tree for 50 seconds and beat up on Il’gynoth himself. The way you kill the eye is to kill little amoeba type adds right in front of it. And there are also tendrils that spring up all over the place that you have to deal with quickly, along with a big old mist creature add. I liked this fight best of all four we did, found the mechanics interesting but not overwhelming. Of course, since you tend to be fighting a lot of spread-out adds, it is not the best kind of fight for a BM hunter because you lose DPS by making your pets charge from spot to another (and in the case of Hati, “leisurely amble” from one spot to another…), but I still liked it.

The last boss we tackled was Elerethe Renferal, and this dude gave us the most trouble. It certainly gave me personally the most trouble, as I am positively paranoid about tornado-type mechanics. (I never once made it through any version of the tornado-dodging back in Mists in ?Heart of Fear? or as I referred to it, Bugistan.) I do think the visuals could be improved in this fight. It really is not obvious, for example, where web bridges are solid and where they have holes that will let you fall to your death. Also, the change to camera distance made it quite a bit harder, in my opinion, to even know which platform the boss had fled to.

The actual mechanics of this fight are not especially difficult, they are just annoyingly vague visually, and we lost a lot of people trying to follow the boss as she moved from one platform to another. It seemed like for this fight Blizz just incorporated the most pesky mechanics from Ji-Kun, Madness of Deathwing, Beth’tilac, and Blade Lord Ta’yak.

In fact, my observation was that all the fights we did seemed to be mostly rehashes of old mechanics. This is not a complaint necessarily, but it kind of seems like the dev team was “creating” by remixing old stuff off the shelf rather than by actually coming up with imaginative new mechanics for at least the first wing of this raid.

So, pluses and minuses of Emerald Nightmare so far:

Plus:

  • Beautiful artwork for the scenery and environment.
  • Fights seemed tuned well, at least for our 30-size group with decent but not maxed gear. It was normal mode, so in a few weeks we will check out heroic and see if there is a huge difference.
  • Run-ins after wipes are not excessive.
  • There did not seem to be any mechanics where one mistake by one player would result in a wipe, which is a nice change from WoD. Also, wipe points did not seem to be exclusively at the end of a long and tedious fight, another nice change from WoD.
  • At least from the part I have seen, there are no real constant-movement fights that effectively render casters and most healers ineffective.

Minus:

  • Not a lot of innovation or creativity with the fights, all seemed to be reruns of pieces of previous fights.
  • Loot seemed a tad stingy. Also, I don’t think any of the people who got loot (we had it on Personal) got any kind of upgrade. As a side note, it was hard to tell whether or not the ability to trade on PL helped, since the loot people got was in every instance an upgrade for them, so they could not trade.
  • The portal mechanics within the raid are a little off-putting. You basically just approach the portal, you don’t click on it, and eventually you just kind of meld into the destination, no obvious sound or visual cues. Quite a few of us commented that we weren’t sure if we had engaged it or not.
  • Some visuals need to be tweaked to make them more obvious — things like the web bridges in Elerethe and the bugs in Nythendra. There may be others.

Side comment: Blizz’s announcement a couple of weeks ago that as of Patch 7.1 they will no longer allow addons to access player locational data will, I think, have a significant negative impact on most raid teams. Much of the utility of DBM, for example, will disappear, as will some useful heal addon features. Similarly, the very helpful “playback” features of some log sites will be gone, removing an excellent analytical tool for players as well as for raid leaders.

As I said before, the professional raid teams will not suffer from this, but the vast majority of “semi-casual” teams will take a big hit. Having now seen a piece of Legion raids, I have to wonder if Blizz realized they were just going to rehash old mechanics and thus needed to artificially increase the difficulty for most players by taking away addon features. Just seems Like a lazy approach to me.

In summary, I think my overall impression of Emerald Nightmare so far is kind of a big “meh”. It was a great improvement over some of the worst parts of WoD raid tiers, and the artwork is quite compelling, but the mechanics are a bit worn and uninspired.